The Visitor (15)

Sep 09, 2009
Cranbrook Film Society

Richard Jenkins (Oscar-nominated for his role) plays 60ish widower Walter Vale, an economics professor at a New England university whose life has lost its purpose. He has little interest in his work – his best is long behind him and it is doubtful if he will ever finish the book that he is supposed to be writing – and no interest at all in his students. He appears to have no close friends or relationships. He has a son he rarely sees, is struggling to learn to play the piano (his late wife had been a pianist), otherwise he is quite disconnected from everyone around him, mired in a state of spiritual apathy.

Walter is compelled to represent his department, to present a colleague’s paper who can no longer attend, at a conference in New York on Development Economics (his specialism). He plans to stay in a flat he has owned for many years but rarely visits. Walter arrives at the flat to find it occupied by a young couple who have rented it in good faith from a Russian conman. They, Tarek Khalil (Haaz Sleiman), a Syrian musician who plays the djembe (a kind of West African drum) in a jazz group, and his Senegalese girlfriend, Zainab (Danai Gurira), a jewellery designer, are both Muslims, and neither are keen for the police to be notified. Instead, they offer to leave at once. Something about them touches Walter and he persuades them to stay and Tarek begins to teach him to play his drums. Walter’s work ceases to be purely academic and becomes personal. As he finds himself thawing out, becoming interested and engaged in life again, he is drawn into their predicament. When disaster strikes, Walter is compelled to do what he can to help.

All the four central performances are beautifully played. In a post 9/11 America, the bureaucratic paranoia and obsession with the ‘war on terror’ has claimed a few more victims in scenes which, you are left feeling, are replicated daily. This is a quiet, thoughtful film containing some beautiful moments.

This is director’s, Thomas McCarthy’s, second feature film. His first, The Station Agent, (much enjoyed by CFS members in the 2004/05 season) won a BAFTA (2003). Before he turned to directing, he had had a substantial career as an actor in both TV and film. As well as directing, he also wrote the screenplays for both films.

Cast – Danai Gurira, Haaz Sleiman, Hiam Abbas, Richard Jenkins

Thomas McCarthy | USA | 2008 | 106 minutes | 15


            Weighted vote 92.8%